Revision vs. Editing

Anyone that knows me knows I have a thing about the terms revision and editing getting mixed up. It’s petty and ridiculous but we all have things we’re stupid about. To me revision is about story, it’s what happens first to turn a first draft into a draft for others. Editing comes afterwards and is more about polishing it up, getting the commas in the right place, checking for typos and perhaps adjusting word choices.

They are different things in my head and I just want that distinction to be clear.

What is your main struggle with editing?  Is it getting started? Rereading your own work? How do you handle it?
This is the question asked for March’s WriYe blog topic. Now if I took the question at it’s word then I would be talking about ‘editing’ aka the polishing of grammar and punctuation. The answer for that is different than the answer would be for revision. My main struggle with editing is lack of knowledge/ability. I tend to punctuate by feel and I make errors in my writing grammatically – I need an editor. I have got a course to try and learn how to be a proof-reader but I’m really struggling to apply the concepts it’s trying to teach. Editing is hard.

Revision on the other hand is something I quite like. It’s analytical and there’s a process to it because it’s dealing with something of substance. I find the actual writing hard because I’m making something from nothing. With revision I’m dealing with something that already exists and that’s a massive help. Years ago I took Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course and most of my process is drawn from that.

I struggle to get started with ANY task. I don’t find revision anymore off-putting than any other task but starting is a hurdle that I fail to jump a lot of the time. Obviously when it comes to re-reading my own work there are moments of despair because I see all the flaws. It hurts because I’m scared I can’t fix it and that it’ll never be good enough. However, due to the process I have, it’s quite formulaic in what I need to do to attack the revision and I find that quite soothing. To be honest I struggle more with lack of self-faith, and despair that it’ll forever be shit, when I’m writing the first draft. (That’s probably why I’m not actually managing to write at the moment.)

Five REVISION Tips and Tricks
#1 Print it Out
I can’t overstate this one enough to be honest. I use Holly Lisle’s system when it comes to annotation which means I don’t write the notes directly on the draft. Instead I do a page number code and write the notes on a different piece of paper. It makes the notes much more readable as they aren’t scrawled in between words/at an angle in the margins. Printing it out helps with focus because it’s on paper (not on the PC), it’s a different environment from the writing which makes it feel fresher. I would advise a different font and double spacing as well. It also makes it feel like a new stage as there’s a clear marker between drafting and revising.

#2 Big stuff first
Again this comes from the course. The cliche “Don’t polish a turd” comes to mind because this is about efficiency. There’s no point in editing a section (and getting attached) if it needs to be thrown out for the good of the story. Tackle big story problems first before thinking about word choice and pretty stuff like that.

#3 Listen to your gut
I find that when something doesn’t make sense in the story a lot of the time I’ve actually had one of the characters note ‘this doesn’t make sense’ within the prose. When drafting there are going to be points which I’m not sure about. I don’t alter my plan, I keep writing but I make a note. I have gone back and forth over this because “if I think there’s a problem why waste time writing something that isn’t going to work” – but the point is I don’t know for sure that it won’t work. More to the point I have no way of knowing what would fix it.

#4 Don’t rush to draft
Planning isn’t for everyone but I like to plan. I also know in hindsight when I rushed the plan and that never ends well. I would advise being sure you are ready to begin before starting writing. I find there’s nothing worse than getting partway into the story and realising I’m stuck because I didn’t prepare properly. Stopping drafting is a death sentence for a story. If I stop mid-draft it is very difficult to pick it back up again.

#5 Finish first
I said above about making notes while drafting rather than stopping. In my opinion it’s impossible to revise a partially completed draft. I might know there’s a problem mid-draft but the only way I can design a fix is to look at the big picture – the entire draft – and that can only be done when the draft is finished. Otherwise I’m trying to fix a section and that might not then work with a later section.